Writing and Privacy

As a writer and a writing coach, I’ve dealt often with fear around writing a piece that exposes someone in the family, or an ex-lover or friend.

A client will say to me: If I tell the truth of this event I’ll never be able to publish it. It would devastate my family.

I say: As writers, we need to write our truths, whether it’s a retelling of the actual story in memoir, or a fictionalizing of it. That’s why we write.

I tell clients: Write it! It can stay just between you and me for now, and you can decide later what to do. Just do not let fear around telling the truth stop you from writing. I believe that fear is the one core reason for writer’s block.

When it comes to what to publish, it’s a tough and real question, and one not to be taken lightly. I chose fiction as a medium so that such a fear would not restrict my creative flow. As every fiction writer will tell you, however, fiction reveals truth that reality obscures, to quote Ralph Waldo Emerson. Every writer cannot help but explore the epic themes of their life, and these themes are often family related, and the characters in the novel even when fictionalized can be a big can o’ worms to put out there.

So if you think it’s just memoir writers who need to worry about this, think again.

I tell clients: You have a right to tell your side of the story. Make no mistake, this is just YOUR take on things. Your brother, ex-husband, father all have a right to write their versions, to tell their sides. This usually frees people up. It’s my right to tell my story, no matter how much a family tries to keep secrets, no matter how much they shame me into the unholy bargain of silence.

I tell clients: When you’re writing a rough draft, be in memoir or novel, it will harm your writing considerably if you avoid the elephant in the room. Write about the elephant . Don’t stop yourself. On final draft, you can choose how much to fictionalize the facts, or to discard it altogether.

Which leads to my third point: Don’t let anyone else tell you what to leave in and what to cut from your finished novel or memoir. If you know someone will be devastated by a certain scene, and you would rather not devastate them, cut the scene. But only if YOU know in YOUR gut, in your truth, that cutting it is necessary. As a coach, I do not have to live with the consequences of your book getting published under your name. You do. So take the decision-making around this seriously.

Personally, I lean toward truth no matter what the consequences. Telling the truth and putting it out there can spark great healing, for the writers and those affected. Writing the truth is the only real way there can be JUSTICE in an epic sense.

I’m a writing coach: www.artofstorytellingonline.com

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5 thoughts on “Writing and Privacy

  1. I take lots of my inspiration from family events and characteristics. As bad as what I am writing about may be, my family and friends never fail to understand that I am a writer and my greatest ideas will most likely come from those close to me.

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  2. of course, you are right in some way, but I agree – telling truth is hard and very responsisble. is is important of course, but how can one do that knowing it might affect his friends, his family, injure them, riun their lives? I believe that often truth should not be spoken about.

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  3. I like this post. I write physician bluegrass fiction. In my day job, privacy is imperative. When I get the story doctored to the point folks don’t recognize themselves, I know I have done my job. As the old Lit professor said, “For it to be good fiction, it need not necessarily have happened but it must be true.”

    Except for the fiction part, mine are all true. Like you say, it’s my story, so I get to show it my way, but it’d better be true. My reputation depends on it.

    Dr. B

    drtombibey.wordpress.com

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  4. I agree with everything you wrote in this article. I have published a memoir titled “Divine Betrayal.” In the process of writing I had to make many decisions whether to use real name, and if I should tell particular stories. At the end of the writing I also spent a while deciding if I should make this a novel or memoir. I chose the later, and have had to live with the consequences. Most relatives in my case, reject my book, and not only questioning my facts as I saw them, but they are hurt and dissapointed at my rejection of their religious faith. In a radical fundamentalist religion there is no room for questioning or doubt. I had to prepare myself for these rejections, but at times it still hurts.

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  5. Thank you I am about to finish a work of poetry dealing with past issues,and such from adolescence on til present it’ll be called ZEBRA,thank you for your insight.

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